JERUSALEM – Jordan has been quietly purchasing real estate surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in the hope of gaining more control over the area accessing the holy site, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials.
Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper reported a member of the Jordanian royal family has been leading efforts to purchase properties near the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site – as part of the kingdom’s plan to solidify its already strong presence there.
The Maariv story was first reported by WND four months ago in an exclusive report revealing Jordan has used shell companies during the past year to purchase several apartments and shops located at key peripheral sections of the Temple Mount.
Israeli and Palestinian officials told WND Jordan also set up a commission to use the shell companies to petition mostly Arab landowners adjacent to eastern sections of the Temple Mount to sell their properties. They said profits from sales at any purchased shops would be reinvested to buy more real estate near the Mount and in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods.
The Jordanian shell companies at times have presented themselves as acting on behalf of the Waqf, the Muslim custodians of the Temple Mount, WND has learned.
Sheik Azzam Khateeb, who was installed in February as the new manager of the Waqf, is known to be close to the Jordanian monarchy. The previous Waqf manager, Sheik Adnon Husseini, was loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and had relations with Israel and some Jewish groups.
“Khateeb answers directly to Jordan,” a Fatah official told WND.
Israeli and Palestinian officials said Jordan recently placed a bid to purchase Jerusalem’s Intercontinental Hotel, which is situated on an important road that leads to an ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives, adjacent to the Temple Mount. Informed sources tell WND the hotel is owned by groups representing the Israeli government and is leased every 10 years to a new company. The last lease was signed in 1997 and expires later this year. It was not immediately clear whether Jordan’s bid was accepted.
The Mount of Olives is the site of many biblical events and is considered important to Judaism and Christianity.
Real estate ownership in Jerusalem’s Old City is widely considered a sensitive matter. Previous Israeli-Palestinian peace proposals tentatively divided parts of the city based on Jewish or Arab residence.
Jordan previously controlled eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from 1948 until Israel liberated the territory in the 1967 Six-Day War. During the period of Jordanian control, Jews were barred from the Western Wall and Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest sites, and hundreds of synagogues were destroyed. Jordan constructed a road to the Intercontinental Hotel that stretched across the Mount of Olives, bulldozing hundreds of Jewish gravestones.
Jordan the past few months has boosted its public profile on the Temple Mount.
The appointment of Khateeb as the new Waqf manager for the Temple Mount was widely seen as a nod to Jordan.
In January, Israel granted Jordan permission to replace the main podium in the Al Aqsa Mosque from which Islamic preachers deliver their sermons. The podium is considered one of the most important stands in the Muslim world. Muslims believe it marks the “exact spot” their prophet Muhammad went up to heaven to receive revelations from Allah.
The new stand bears the emblem of the Jordanian kingdom. It replaces a 1,000-year-old podium believed to have been shipped to Jerusalem by the Islamic conqueror Saladin. That stand was destroyed in 1969, when an Australian tourist set fire to the Al Aqsa Mosque.
In February, WND first reported Prime Minister Ehud Olmert granted permission to Jordan to construct a large minaret at a site on the Temple Mount where Jewish groups here had petitioned to build a synagogue. According to Israeli diplomatic sources, an announcement on the minaret has been stalled.
A minaret is a tower usually attached to a mosque from which Muslims are called to the five Islamic daily prayers.
There are four minarets on the Temple Mount. The new minaret will be the largest one yet. It will be the first built on the Temple Mount in more than 600 years and is slated to tower over the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. It will reside next to the Al-Marwani Mosque, located at the site of Solomon’s Stables.
A top leader of the Waqf told WND Olmert’s granting of permission to build the minaret in the synagogue’s place “confirms 100 percent the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) belongs to Muslims.”
“This proves Jewish conspiracies for a synagogue will never succeed and solidifies our presence here. It will make Muslims worldwide more secure that the Jews will never take over the Haram al-Sharif,” the Waqf official said.
Hamas plans for Temple Mount takeover thwarted
The reports of Jordan gaining Temple Mount control come as Israeli security officials revealed yesterday they foiled a Hamas plan to take control of the Temple Mount and spread the terror group’s ideology and recruit new members in Jerusalem.
During a year-long operation, Israel’s Shin Bet Security Services revealed it arrested 11 Hamas officials based in Jerusalem, 10 of whom are Israeli identity cards holders.
Hamas’ Jerusalem headquarters were reportedly funded by Hamas headquarters in Syria, as well as a chain of charity institutions based in Saudi Arabia.
Shin Bet officials said Hamas invested large sums of money in construction on the Temple Mount, including the building of a public bathroom facility and enlargement of a library and several prayer halls in a massive mosque that was built in a southeast Mount area known as Solomon’s Stables. The area had been called Solomon’s Stables since Crusader times, when it was used by the Crusaders as horse stables.
“[Hamas’] goal is to gain full control over the Temple Mount,” a high-ranking security officer told the Jerusalem Post yesterday, adding Hamas also tried to infiltrate its members into the Temple Mount as maintenance staff, in addition to its religious leaders who preach, give tours and teach Quran classes there.
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